On Pilgrimage and Health by Dr Jenny Klimiuk

Categories: Opinion and Research.

Pilgrimage is an ancient practice and a feature of most of the major religions we have today. Often thought to be of benefit to spirituality, what about the benefits to psychological, emotional and also physical wellbeing?

Some studies have sought to explore this in more detail, but few have looked at the impact of pilgrimage on quality of life (QOL) and wellbeing. Our study ‘The Lourdes Pilgrimage and the Impact on Pilgrim Quality of Life’ recently published in the Journal of Religion and Health, aimed to explore just this concept.

As pilgrimage doctors, and ourselves pilgrims, we had seen first-hand the positive benefits of pilgrimage to our patients, who often experienced significant positive transformations as a result.

The research aimed to capture this impact on wellbeing by conducting a study looking at the quality of life of pilgrims both before and after pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. Results showed a positive impact on QOL immediately after pilgrimage, though this was not sustained at 2 months. The majority of pilgrims who participated reported they did feel their QOL had improved as a result of pilgrimage; this was despite the fact pilgrimage is often tiring and physically demanding. Factors that most influenced this impact on QOL were the spiritual and religious aspects of pilgrimage and ‘a sense of togetherness’. Other studies have also identified similar important and beneficial themes of pilgrimage.

Those who work in Palliative Care will have a lot of insight into the importance of spirituality on wellbeing, and how addressing spiritual issues can have transformative effects on other aspects of health.

We know there is a complex relationship between religion, spirituality and health; we are of course multi-faceted human beings and the interrelationships of these different aspects of our human nature are far from being understood. Though there have to date been many studies to show the positive impact that active religious practices have on health, what about pilgrimage? The evidence base is growing.

Perhaps this ancient practice needs a more modern understanding.



Dr Jenny Klimiuk is a Palliative Care Consultant at Bolton Hospice, UK.





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